Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Petition Targets Council Benefits

Newspaper article The Record (Bergen County, NJ)

Petition Targets Council Benefits

Article excerpt

SADDLE BROOK -- After repeatedly questioning council members' right to receive health benefits, a group of residents wants to put the issue to the voters.

Omar Rodriguez, a former Democratic councilman who is running for a seat on the township council, and five township residents are currently collecting signatures for petitions that call for two ordinances to be placed on the November ballot. One ordinance states that the township will no longer provide health benefits to elected officials and their dependents, as well as any part-time or appointed professionals. The second ordinance would ensure that those same groups do not receive lifetime health benefits, which they are currently eligible to receive after 20 years of service to the township.

"This is a message to the elected officials that the taxpayers really care what they do up there [on the dais] and how they spend their money," said Rodriguez.

Township health benefits and other perks, particularly for elected officials, have been a frequent topic at council meetings for some time now. Last year, Rodriguez criticized Mayor Karen Chamberlain and council members Anthony Halko and Richard Conte, all Republicans, for taking health benefits and/or stipends, despite pledging during their election campaign not to do so.

At the time, The Record reported that Conte was taking both the health benefits and the $4,750 council stipend; Halko took the stipend but not the benefits; and Chamberlain was taking a $1 annual stipend because, she said, she wanted to protect herself in case she was sued. The Record also reported last year that Democratic council members Florence Mazzer and Joseph Setticase received health benefits and stipends from the town as well.

Councilman Andrew Cimiluca said Tuesday that he receives health benefits from the town.

Rodriguez served on the council from 2003 to 2010. …

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